EDITORIAL: Arrival of critical mass - Sunday, February 20, 2011

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\02\20\story_20-2-2011_pg3_1

Taking a cue from the mammoth protests and eventual successes of the people-led revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the anthem of regime change is spreading like wildfire across the Middle East — an Arab demography that has many similarities but subtle differences as well. However, differences such as sectarian divides within the masses themselves and dissimilarities between the regimes are not enough to keep the protesters at bay. There has been an unprecedented eruption of anti-government protests in the Arab states of Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, where governments are trying their best to quell the rising swell of anger in different ways. During protests to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemeni security and pro-government forces have clashed violently with protesters with at least five killed and dozens wounded. Libya has chosen an exceptionally brutal path by turning into a bloodbath the Libyan ‘Day of Anger’ (Thursday). So far, reports indicate that some 84 people have been killed in protests that look to oust Moammar Gaddafi, in power for four decades. In Yemen and Libya, people have been bringing out their dead and returning to the protesting squares to resume their agitation. In Bahrain, the situation is somewhat different, where a monarch, and not an autocrat, is being protested against. Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa belongs to a Sunni family that rules over a predominantly Shia majority. Unlike Saleh and Gaddafi, al-Khalifa is practicing the placating tactic of promising social reforms — a move that did not get Hosni Mubarak very far.

All across the Persian Gulf this sudden tsunami of anger and revolution astounds. So what has brought the people out onto the streets so suddenly? Even in the most repressive of dictatorships, change always comes in the most unpredictable and mysterious of ways. It would be fair to say that this is a revolution of rising expectations where the demographic of the protesters is stretched across the tech savvy youth of today who have never seen the fruits and hope of a promised better future. The new tools of communication — networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter — have made mobilisation and mass organisation possible and very difficult for repressive regimes to control. What needs to be noted is the coalescence of an amorphous mass of individuals who, through networking online, communicate their common problems to become aware that the same dilemmas exist for a broad spectrum of people. This brings a previously unknown solidarity and a common ground for individuals who were, originally, spread out, to merge and organise. This is how critical mass is reached and thus comes the moment of change.

It must also be stressed that the implications of this people’s revolution phenomenon that has meshed itself with online savvy youth may not necessarily restrict themselves to the Arab world. The best outcome of this new-wave phenomenon is the ouster of age-old rulers in Tunisia and Egypt; these, so far, have been the limits of the revolution. The relatively spontaneous mass of protesters, through disciplined and peaceful protests in both these countries, has successfully brought down two dictators. However, one question must be asked at this turning point in the history of these nations: will these movements stop with these ousters and fizzle out with a whimper or will they lead to something grander? Do the protesters have the strength and tools to overthrow the system that has sustained dictatorship, autocracy and monarchy for so long? Will the people, and the youth in particular, demonstrate the staying power and the organisational skills required to take the revolution to the next level and challenge the system that gives life to the regimes they despise so much? The jury is out on this one but we can still wonder. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Transformed tactics

According to reports, two power pylons in Sibi and a
gas pipeline in Dera Bugti were blown up on Monday. The attacks on infrastructure have intensified of late and a total of 12 gas pipelines and eight power pylons of high transmission lines were attacked this month. As a result of these attacks, large parts of Balochistan will be deprived of power and gas supplies for 12 days. It is important to note that the insurgents were previously targeting the security forces, with attacks on infrastructure few and far between. It seems they came to the conclusion that their tactics were not effective and therefore reverted to what has been a traditional insurgency tactic. Natural gas extracted from Balochistan, a utility of immense importance that fuelled the industrialisation of Pakistan since it was discovered in the early 1950s, was denied to Balochistan for years. Therefore, they are attacking the infrastructure not only because it symbolically represents the state but also because it is perceived as an exploitation instrument. Since the provincial government is bending over backwards to secure the main electricity and gas installations, the tactic is proving effective.

It is important to see how the state is responding to the Baloch demand for rights. Two activists of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-Azad) were shot dead and 24 were arrested after an alleged exchange of firing between the group’s members and the security forces in Khuzdar. No doubt what the insurgents are doing harms the economy, but it is still a long way from what the security forces are up to.

The security forces need to understand that they are fuelling the insurgency inadvertently with their repression. Their barbaric acts are only producing more recruits for the insurgency. Their attitude is not solving problems, rather it is making them worse. Balochistan is located in a very geo-strategically important region, with a coast overlooking the Straits of Hormuz, from where the Gulf’s oil supplies pass. In addition, it is rich in minerals. We should not tempt fate with this cavalier attitude because if any foreign power gets interested in Balochistan, we will, once again, hear the echoes of 1971. We must draw back from the brink. This is a political matter and requires a political approach. The need is to make the Baloch stakeholders, giving them the status of full and equal citizens. Instead of oppressing them, we must engage the estranged nationalists and do something for the people of Balochistan, otherwise we may suffer an irreparable loss. *

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